Misty Copeland and President Obama Talk Race, Dance and Education
One is American Ballet Theatre's first African American female principal; the other is the United States' first African American president. Obviously, Misty Copeland and Barack Obama are incredible role models. But it turns out these two leaders have even more in common than you might think. (And no, we're not just talking about the fact that Obama also has pretty impressive dance skills...although, fair point.)
Recently, Time magazine—which named Copeland and Obama two of its Most Influential People in 2015—had the pair sit down for a candid interview with reporter Maya Rhodan. As Rhodan pointed out, both were born into multiracial families, both were raised by single mothers and both have risen to the top of their respective fields. And that was the jumping-off point for a convo that ranged from how race has affected their careers to body issues in the ballet world to basketball star Steph Curry.
It wasn't all super-serious! (screenshot from Time.com)
Unsurprisingly, the eternally poised Copeland held her own with the leader of the free world—and Obama, eloquent as usual, showed off a pretty decent knowledge of the ballet scene, too. (He's probably picked up a few pointers from Copeland since appointing her to the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition back in 2014.) Here are a couple of dance-related highlights from their discussion:
Barack Obama: "You know, as the father of two daughters, one of the things I’m always looking for are strong women who are out there who are breaking barriers and doing great stuff. And Misty’s a great example of that. Somebody who has entered a field that’s very competitive, where the assumptions are that she may not belong. And through sheer force of will and determination and incredible talent and hard work she was able to arrive at the pinnacle of her field."
Misty Copeland: "I think that having a platform and having a voice to be seen by people beyond the classical ballet world has really been my power...It’s allowed me to say, it’s okay to have a healthy athletic body. We are fully capable of doing everything that the person who doesn’t have an extremely athletic body, that is more thin. We’re fully capable of doing exactly the same thing....And it’s I think forcing a lot of these top tier companies to address the lack of diversity and diversifying the bodies that we’re seeing in classical ballet."
(From left) Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland (all photos by Erin Baiano)
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Imagine attending American Ballet Theatre's prestigious NYC summer intensive, training among classical ballet legends. Imagine taking the stage at New York City Dance Alliance Nationals, competing against some of the country's best contemporary dancers. Now, imagine doing both—at the same time.
Welcome to Madison Brown's world. This summer, she's in her third year as a National Training Scholar with ABT, while also competing for NYCDA's Teen Outstanding Dancer title. (She's already won Outstanding Dancer in the Mini and Junior categories.) The logistics are complicated—ABT's five-week intensive overlaps with the weeklong NYCDA Nationals, which translates to a lot of cabs back and forth across Manhattan—but Maddie is committed to making the most of each opportunity. "I love contemporary and ballet equally," she says. "While I'm able to do both, I want to do as much as I can."
Maddie has an expressive face, endless extensions, and a quiet command of the stage. She dances with remarkable maturity—a trait noted by none other than Jennifer Lopez, one of the judges on NBC's "World of Dance," on which Maddie competed in Season 2. Although Maddie didn't take home the show's top prize, she was proud to be the youngest remaining soloist when she was eliminated, and saw the whole experience as an opportunity to grow. After all, she's just getting started. Oh, that's right—did we mention Maddie's only 14?
Corbin Bleu in rehearsal for "Kiss Me, Kate" (Jenny Anderson, courtesy Roundabout Theatre Company)
If you're a hardcore Broadway baby, today is the worst Sunday of the year. Why, you ask? The Tony Awards were last Sunday, so basically there's nothing to look forward to in life anymore—no James Corden being James Corden, no teary acceptance speeches from newly minted stars, no thrilling excerpts from the hottest new shows. Oh yeah, and there are 50 more Sundays to go before our humdrum lives are once again blessed with the next annual iteration of Broadway's biggest night.